Veeam Backup & Replication 5 – A review

Before Veeam Backup & Replication v6 is released, I thought that I would take some time to go through the use and features of Veeam Backup & Replication from a user’s point of view.

Within our company we have been using Veeam Backup & Replication for the past three years, since version 3 of the software.  We had chosen the Veeam software after making the decision to bring our backup tools and Disaster Recovery in-house from a major provider.  We had compared the Veeam software with NetBackup from Symantec and also FastBack from IBM, both on price and on features and capability, Veeam won our hearts and also our business.  Although the other providers mentioned have made significant improvements in their software, at the time, the Veeam offering was ideally suited for a mainly virtualised environment and had a good roadmap with new features being announced for their forthcoming release at the time.

Our Environment

So, our environment.  We’re not a small environment but I also know that we are not the biggest environment in the world.  We currently have around 300 virtual machines sitting across around 6 or 7 virtual hosts.  We probably backup around 150 of these virtual machines in a mixture of daily and weekly backups, using the Veeam Backup & Replication software.

We have two Veeam Backup & Replication servers to allow us to perform more backups simultaneously which save the backups completely to SAN disk presented to the servers.  We have been quite radical in our approach to avoid any form of Tape Backup in our environment, opting instead to backup locally to SAN disk and use the replication side of the application to replicate the virtual machines to our second location in the U.S.

The Software

The Veeam Backup & Replication software has a simple interface and in some respects this is one of the reasons that we liked the product but I can also see that this could be a reason for some people to think that the application isn’t as developed as other backup software.

Backups can be configured within a couple of minutes based on individual machines, folders and datastores using your vCenter server as the communication point.  The backup job is configured through a simple Wizard driven interface and covers all elements that you could imagine of a backup task.  Multiple options are available within the backup jobs, being able to select the retention period, the possibility of running full backups occasionally as part of the backup job, and the ability to run tasks after the backup job is complete (including kicking off transfers to tape, if that is what you want to achieve).

Replication tasks are configured in a similar method to the backup tasks and have very similar options available compared to the backup tasks.

The key elements with the backup and replication jobs is the ability to run the Veeam software on either a physical or virtual machine.  When using a physical machine, I would advise using the direct SAN backup method, this avoids any form of backup across the network and copies the data using the FC network instead.  This means that backup speeds can be impressively fast.  If you are installing the software into a virtual machine then use the Appliance method.  This method mounts the virtual disks being backed up, into the backup server and performs the backup locally (in essense a SAN based backup).  When the software performs a backup, it creates a snapshot of the virtual machine and then backs up the disk images whilst the changes are written into the snapshot file.

As I am sure you will be aware, a backup is no good unless you can actually restore the files and an off-site replication is no good unless you can go through and perform a disaster recovery test.  Veeam have taken note of these requirements and have produced a simple a quick method to perform both of these tasks.  When restoring, you can restore a whole virtual machine (which will also register it in you vCenter environment and power it up for you, if you wish), individual virtual machine files (useful if you have accidentally deleted a single disk or modified the VMX file incorrectly), and the key ones of restoring individual Windows and Linux files (this is unique in that it presents the backup to show you the disks listed by drive letter and allows you to drag and drop into the relevant location you wish to restore to).
Performing a disaster recovery test is also a simple affair.  Find your virtual machine listed in the replication area, right mouse click and select the option to failover to this version, this will power up the replica and make it ready to be used.  This does not power down your existing server and therefore you should have your replicated virtual machines segregated from the main network.  Once you are done with your testing, you can simply revert the replica back which will power it down and leave it ready to continue the replication processes again.

In Veeam Backup & Replication v5, additional features for SureBackup were introduced allowing you to have scripts run on your virtual machines in a completely segregated environment to confirm that the backups have been successful.  Instant VM Recovery is a very neat feature as it can have any virtual machine back up and running within a matter of only a couple of minutes, this does this by mounting the backup files and running the virtual machine from the backup files allowing you to perform a full restore of the virtual machine whilst the users are still using the temporary version.  V5 also introduced Veeam’s U-AIR (Universal Application-Item Recovery) technology basically allowing you to restore individual transactions in SQL or messages in Exchange etc.

There are so many features that I can’t really mention all of them, and they all seem to work pretty well.  You also have the option to install the Veeam Enterprise Manager web site, allowing you to see the backup progress etc.  My personal preference would be to use the Enterprise Manager as the main interface for the Veeam software but it just misses the point on a few different levels.  For example, there are no useful reports that could be printed or exported from the web site… there maybe reports but these are next to useless.  There are a lot of people requiring virtual machine level backup reports to compliance and auditing purposes but none of the reports in the current version will show you this information.  You have the ability to start jobs, stop jobs and restart jobs from the website but no capability to look at the job options, or even better to change them.  The website, at the moment, is very much a poor mans admin tool.  I know that Veeam go for the simple approach to their software but the Enterprise Manager web site is the perfect opportunity to show some style, this is the view that will be seen by managers rather than the console.

There are a whole host of new features appearing in the next version of the software and this will continue to show that Veeam is at the forefront of the backup and replication arena for virtual environments.  On the whole I love the product and will quite happily continue to use it over the next few years, I have a few suggestions with regards to improvements… many of which I have already shared but version 5 of Veeam Backup & Replication I would give it a strong 9/10.

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